Lag BaOmer, the thirty-third day of the Omer Count, is the
anniversary of the passing of the great sage, Rabbi Shimon
bar Yochai (circa 165 ce).
Although Rabbi Shimon was one of the greatest expounders
of the revealed part of Torahthe vast body
of Halachah that legislates the civil, marital and
ritual laws of Jewish lifehe
is most deeply identified with its hidden or mystical
element. He is the author of the Zohar, the most basic Kabbalistic
work, and the initiator of a new era in the history of Torahs
transmission through the generations.
Up until Rabbi Shimons time, the mystical soul of Torahwhich
charts the sublime expanses of the divine reality, the processes
of creation, G-ds relationship to our existence and
the inner recesses of the human soulwas transmitted
in private to only a very few individuals in each generation
and only in the form of terse, cryptic maxims. Rabbi Shimon
was the first to expound upon these most intimate secrets
of the divine wisdom, and he set in motion the process by
which, in the generations that followed, they gained a widening
audience and an increasingly detailed and explicit elucidation.
This process was accelerated by Rabbi Isaac Luria
who proclaimed that in these times, we are allowed and
duty-bound to reveal this wisdom, and more recently,
by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov
and his disciples.
The Chassidic masters have explained that the growing popularity
and accessibility of the inner dimensions of Torah reflect
historys progression toward the day when, with the advent
of the Messianic era, The earth shall be filled with
the knowledge of G-d, as the waters cover the sea.
The Zohar itself expresses this truth when it declares, With
this book shall Israel be mercifully redeemed.
Before his passing, Rabbi Shimon instructed his disciples
to observe his yahrzeit as a day of joy and festivity,
as it marks the culminating point of all he achieved in the
course of his physical life. Thus we celebrate Lag BaOmer
as Rabbi Shimons personal festival, as well as the day
that made the mystical soul of Torah accessible to each and
every one of us.
On Lag BaOmer it is customary to take the children to parks
and fields to play with bows and arrows. One of the explanations
given for this custom is that we are told that in the course
of Rabbi Shimons lifetime, no rainbow appeared in the
sky. The rainbow is a sign of human failing: as related in
the ninth chapter of Genesis, G-d promised that whenever mankind
shall be as undeserving as it was in the generation of the
Flood, the rainbow will remind Him of His vow to never again
destroy His world. But as long as Rabbi Shimon was alive,
his merit alone was enough to ensure that G-d would not regret
His creation. Hence the connection of the bow (keshet)
to Lag BaOmer.
According to this, however, the bow is a negative symbol,
reflecting the decrease in merit that the world experienced
upon Rabbi Shimons passing. There is, however, a positive
aspect to the phenomenon of the bow as well, for the bow also
serves as an indicator and catalyst for the ultimate Redemption.
In the words of the Zohar: Do not anticipate the coming
of Moshiach until you see the shining colors of the rainbow.
The Sword and the Bow
The first weapons devised by man were designed for hand-to-hand
combat. But a persons enemy or prey is not always an
arms-length away, or even within sight; soon the warrior
and hunter were inventing an array of weapons capable of reaching
targets which are a great distance away, or which lie hidden
and protected behind barriers of every sort.
Chief among them was the bow and arrow. The inventor of this
device conceived how the tension in an arched bough of wood
could be exploited to propel a missile over great distances.
To do so, he first had to grasp the paradox that the deadly
arrow must be pulled back toward ones own heart in order
to strike the heart of the enemy; and that the more it is
drawn toward oneself, the more distant a foe it can reach.
Indeed, virtually all long-range weapons (including the rocket)
operate on this principle: they cause an action by the means
of an opposite action; they impel up and away by means of
a force that is exerted down and back toward the launch-point.
Therein lies the deeper significance of the bow and its connection
to Lag BaOmer.
The revealed part of Torah is like a close-range
weapon in that it aids us in meeting the obvious challenges
of life. It teaches us to distinguish between good and evil,
between the holy and the profane. Do not kill or steal, it
tells us; feed the hungry, hallow your relationship and family
life with the sanctity of marriage, remember the Shabbat day,
eat only kosher foodsfor thus you will preserve the
order that G-d instituted in His world and develop it in accordance
with the purpose for which He created it.
But not everything is as up front as the explicit dos
and donts of the Torah. What about the ambiguities of
intent and motive, love and awe, ego and commitment? What
about the subtleties of comprehending the divine essence of
reality and vanquishing the cosmic heterogeneity that is the
source of all evil? How are we to approach these challenges,
so distant from our sensory reach and so elusive of our minds
This is where the mystical dimension of Torah comes in. Delve
into yourself, it explains, retreat to your own essence, to
the very core of your soul. There you will uncover the selfless
heart of the self, the spark of G-dliness within
you that is one with its Creator and His creation. There you
will gain the insight and foresight to deal with the most
distant and obscure adversary; from there you will catapult
your redeeming influence to the most forsaken corner of G-ds
On Lag BaOmer, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai gave us the bow.
Based on the Rebbes talks, Nissan 29
and Lag BaOmer, 5711 (May 5 and 24, 1951)
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe
by Yanki Tauber
. Indeed, almost every one of the Talmuds 523
chapters contains at least one law cited in the name of
Rabbi Shimon (see Likkutei Sichot, vol. XII, p. 194).
. The Holy Ari, 1534-1572.
. Founder of the Chassidic movement, 1698-1760.
. Zohar, part III, 124b.
. In Hebrew, the word refers to all bows and arches,
including the rainbow and the archers bow.
. Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 9:2; Benei Yissachar,
Maamarei Chodesh Iyar, 3:4.
. Zohar, part I, 72b; Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 18.
.Torat MenachemHitvaaduyot 5711, vol. II,
pp. 50-58, 77-81.